Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A Tribute to Maeve Binchy


Today is a very sad day. I just learned this morning of Maeve Binchy’s death. I had no idea she was ill, as I don’t watch the news much or read magazines. I have to confess to becoming very emotional - it was such a shock.   I was too busy wondering when she would hurry up and produce another amazing novel for me to devour.

I remember as a student, having no money to buy books. I honestly didn’t own any books back then, apart from university texts. Back then books were also a lot more expensive than they are now. There were no supermarkets selling books, no Amazon and no ebooks. For the record, I wouldn’t want Maeve’s books in ebook format. I would always prefer the hardback, or in the early days the paperback, which even at that was a stretch for me to afford.

I will never forget the feeling of buying my first hardback book, which was Maeve’s, from WH Smith. It had just come out, I had finished university, had a job and I could go and buy that book as soon as it came out. I didn’t leave the house until it was finished. I completely lost myself in the story.

I cannot fully express the sadness I feel that we will not see more of her existing characters and the introduction of new ones in the future.  I loved how every couple of books, Maeve would bring back some of her characters.  It always felt like meeting up with old friends.

BUT - the reason for this post is to remember this amazing woman and all of her works. I have a couple of favourites – Circle of Friends comes right at the top and was the first I read. Even the film they later made of it was good. I remember very clearly going to the pictures to see it.  

Quentins is another firm favourite – who can forget how Maeve brought back the twins from Scarlet Feather, as well as the Italian lady from Evening Class.  The stories that Patrick and Brenda Brennan had to listen to and the shoulder they offered for people to cry on in their restaurant, made me want to go to Dublin and visit it.

Talking of Evening Class, this really is one of my favourites, perhaps because I had just finished my language degree, which included Italian. I also thought at one point about moving to Italy and so was keen to see how the Signora coped with Italian village life. At first she was mistrusted, shunned even. But, even with her secrets, she won the villagers over.

Tara Road and The Lilac Bus also figure highly in my favourites. Really it’s difficult to not go on at length here as I loved all of Maeve’s books. I particularly enjoyed the house swap in Tara Road and wanted Ria’s husband to get his comeuppance. He didn’t deserve her. I also watched the movie which I thought pretty good too, but, naturally, not a patch on the novel. 

Loved Tom, the bus driver in The Lilac Bus, with the tales of each of the passengers’ lives and why they were on his bus.

Scarlet Feather introduced us to Cathy and Tom, pulling out all the stops to get their catering business off the ground.

The way Maeve drew her characters in all of her novels was exceptional – so warm and likeable; Benny in Circle of Friends, the slightly chubby girl and her beautiful friend Nan, who did the dirty on her with the man Benny had fallen in love with.  And yet once Benny got over her grief, she stood by her friend, who was just trying to escape life with an abusive father. I can recall Benny taking the bus home every Friday, not being able to stay in Dublin and party with her friends and boyfriend in the big city.  She was the dutiful daughter who had to work Saturdays in her father’s store.

 And Maeve also knew how to depict characters  who inspired hatred and scorn, like slimy Sean, who wanted Benny’s father’s business and planned to marry Benny to get it. 

There are so many excellent books to read out there and I don’t re-read books often as a result. I have already re-read several of Maeve’s and intend to read them again now, in chronological order. I even read The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club four years ago when I was finishing my own novel, to get tips from her.  She has been a true inspiration to me.

I am sure Maeve’s writing encouraged and influenced many of the Irish bestselling authors we see nowadays who have built their own followings and who are also among my favourite authors. And of course there are many, many non-Irish writers who will have been impacted by her too. 

Maeve, for me, was the first of the Irish contemporary women’s fiction writers to make her mark. She was so much more than a chick-lit author, teaching us about the family dynamic, relationships between family members, lovers and friends and how her characters coped with moral dilemmas and what life threw at them. She handled serious and delicate issues such as gambling, alcoholism, domestic violence, among many others.

She will be sorely missed and I hope often celebrated

I would love if you could leave your comments about your favourite Maeve Binchy book, character or scene, so that we can all share and remember this wonderful woman and author

Thanks
Susan






13 comments:

  1. Lovely post. I also remember finding my mom's copy of Scarlet Feather and after finishing it heading to the library to see what else of hers I could find. Completely agree that meeting up with peripheral characters in later books felt like meeting old friends. She wrote 'comforting' books somehow - and that's meant as a very strong compliment.

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    1. Hi Lara, I know exactly what you mean about 'comforting'. If you'd ever had a bad day, losing yourself in one of her books was the best tonic. thx for taking the time to comment, Sooz

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  2. Beautifully written tribute to a wonderful writer. Loved Circle of Friends and Tara Road. Being a Dubliner, I'm quite ashamed I never got to meet her.

    Ash Boyd

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    1. thanks and for taking the time to comment

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  4. I'd never heard of her until today, but just that proves something. Though the lady herself may be gone from this world, her legacy - as will be the same with all writers, so long as even two people remain (one person who has read the work, and a second to hear about it) - still influences people. You wrote a beautiful and personal tribute to her, and I thank you for sharing that part of your life with me. Now I'm going to go look up some of her books.

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    1. thanks for your kind comment. You will enjoy her books - very warm and as mentioned by another reader here, comforting. You have a treat ahead of you.

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  5. What a lovely tribute, Susan. I agree with everything you said. One particular scene I always remember is where Benny is hoping for a lovely new, glamorous outfit but is given staid, frumpy clothes instead. I read it aloud to my husband and we suffered for her together. (He became a huge fan of her books, too.) Many of us will have put a brave face on it when given presents by loved ones, which aren’t really what we wanted. And this was such a large part of her effectiveness. We could recognise situations and groan, 'Oh, I know!' I always cared about her characters, right from the start of each book, and loved meeting the ones we'd already got to now, turning up in someone else's story. A sad loss to her readers, but an infinitely sadder one to her beloved husband, Gordon.
    Penny (Scottish Vegan Homemaker)

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    1. Yes, I remember that scene too. I felt so sorry for her. Good to know that also men enjoy her books. Maeve was very good at showing us everyday situations that we could all relate to and pulling us into the situation, almost making us feel part of it. thx for taking the time to comment.

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  6. Lovely tribute, Sooz. My favourite Maeve Binchy book has always been The Glass Lake. Being a hopeless romantic and the victim of unrequieted love myself, I was intrigued by Helen's story and the fact she married someone she never loved as much as the man who broke her heart. It's been many years since I read it; I was in my twenties then... I would love to find time to read that again. I also like Circle of Friends, Sooz. Maeve was one of the first women writers who I became a fan of and she was definitely one of the writers who inspired me to start writing. She will be missed.

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    1. hi Maria
      agree with everything you have said. Yes, it's been a long time since I read The Glass Lake. We can look forward to reading them all again. With such a lapse in time from reading them until now, there are bound to be sections we have forgotten and which will be lovely to read again, thanks for leaving a comment

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  7. Very nice post, SB - how lovely it would be if her family read it :)

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    1. thanks Terry. Yes, and I am sure there are probably many comments and posts about her from yesterday. Maybe I will send it to them at a later date. thanks for leaving your comment

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